Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Missing Mr. Steak

Out of the blue, as my wife and I were talking a couple of weeks ago, she asked me. “Do you remember Mr. Steak?” 

How could I forget? 

My entire life, my dad loved steak.  His eventual stage in life would find him at the finest steakhouses in the US, and he was notorious for his closing dinners at Minneapolis’ finest (Manny’s) when one of his investment bank deals got done.  But his love affair with the steakhouse did not always know only the finest.  It was nurtured by a simple little franchise in the upper Midwest that catered to serving frozen steak to hungry middle classers under the auspices of a “nice restaurant.” 

For my family in the early years a night at Mr. Steak was not only a big deal, but a huge deal.  One of my earliest memories was of mom and dad headed there, while the baby sitter, my brother, and I saw them off (my sister wasn’t in the picture yet).  Both parents were dressed in their finest, likely celebrating something job-related for my dad, and spending money had had been so hard to come by.  Another clear memory was sitting in the restaurant with my dad, grandma, and brother, having just visited mom at the hospital (she was probably there due to the birth of my sister).  As I got older the memories became clearer, and the importance of going to Mr. Steak was made more evident.  We’d all dress up, and head out for one of those rectangle platters of steak with a plastic colored skewer in them to denote how the steak was done. 

My memories of my family’s interaction with this now defunct restaurant franchise really brought home for me what my parents went through in their early lives together.  They were struggling hard, being hopelessly broke, and basically depending on just each other to get by. 

Oh, how different it has been for me. 

Since an age that it mattered, I’ve always had access to money.  Yeah, I worked my whole life and yeah I’ve been through periods of being broke myself, but nothing like what my parents had to do.  At a minimum, and while it was never stressed, there was always the safety net they provided, and regardless if I used it or not, I’ve basically wanted for nothing for my life.  


It is pretty incredible, this legacy that has been given me.  The things I’ve done, the places I’ve been, even the restaurants I’ve patronized have been blessings that few are able to enjoy, and I’m grateful to have.  But of all of them, the one I’d most like to revisit right now is the one with that optimistic young family (four plus one highchair) out for an infrequent dinner of a mediocre steak, grateful for what they have, on their hard but rewarding path to bigger and better.

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